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Making It Permanent At The Old Church

Developing a new house sound system to meet the needs of a unique live entertainment venue on Portland.

The Old Church is a non-profit entertainment and event venue in the West End cultural district of Portland, OR. Renowned as a space for acoustic and classical performances, it recently underwent a sound reinforcement upgrade in a project headed by Alcons Audio LR7 line arrays that has made a significant difference in attracting a wider range of performers and audiences.

Originally built in 1882, a dwindling congregation meant that in 1967 an alternative use had to be found for the building or it faced demolition. A group of Portland citizens formed a non-profit organization to preserve the building and use it as a live performance facility to enhance the local community.

Favored Location

The venue presents a contemporary, comfortable and accessible space, with the board of directors always looking for ways to improve it. Recently they raised more than $270,000 with the aim of upgrading it’s capabilities as a concert hall.

As a result, Gary Stokes of Stokes Sound, who’s also front of house engineer for k.d. lang as well as an audio engineer for artists such as Queen and Adam Lambert, was brought in to assist on the project, which included the design and installation of a permanent system.

“Throughout its life, the building has been a favorite location for classic and acoustic music in Portland,” Stokes says. “It never had a permanent sound reinforcement system before; the only systems used were portable, which were brought in if needed.”

In 1972 The Old Church was added to the National Register of Historic Places as an excellent example of Carpenter Gothic architecture. This, together with a recent internal restoration, made installing a permanent system more challenging.

“There are a lot of limitations regarding what you can do,” Stokes explains. “It has no proscenium, the weight limits for flying loudspeakers are extremely low, the acoustics are very reflective and, because of its historic nature, you cannot do anything to dampen the room. In addition, the audience is seated in a 260-degree arc around the stage, so installing a system without getting speakers in sight lines or throwing a lot of energy at the walls was extremely difficult.

The venue first contracted a temporary system to see if adding a permanent solution could attract a wider range of performers.  “It didn’t look great, but it proved the point and we were given the go-ahead to investigate permanent systems,” Stokes says.

Small & Light

Having utilized Alcons Audio gear, including its pro-ribbon technology, on a U.S. tour by Jesse Cook, Stokes identified it as a potential solution for the unique nature of this project: “We looked at a range of options, but I had a feeling Alcons would be really well suited, thanks to the advantages offered by the pro-ribbon high-frequency driver technology. Alcons also offers a wide variety of smaller, lighter loudspeakers that produce remarkable clarity and intelligibility with a very high SPL.”

A closer look at the new main array, comprised of Alcons Audio LR7 modules with 120-degree dispersion at the top, tapering down to 90-degree dispersion.

Alcons Audio North America sales manager David Rahn arranged the loan of a demo system, which was set up on stands while Stokes took acoustic measurements. “It immediately proved its superior audio quality, which was very obvious to the board members,” he notes. “It also proved that we could get a lot more speakers and high frequency control from much less weight than with any other manufacturer’s products.”

The final form of the installed system incorporates a mono central cluster of six LR7/120 (120-degree horizontal dispersion) and four LR7/90 (90-degree horizontal dispersion) compact line array modules, supplemented by fills of six compact VR8 monitors and two mid-sized VR12M monitors.

Lower frequencies are enhanced with a pair of BF181i mkII compact subwoofers positioned left and right on the platform. Audio power is provided by Sentinel3 and Sentinel10 amplified controllers.

“The system delivers greater advantages than you would get from a stereo system,” Stokes states. “Using the 90- and 120-dispersion LR7s, the center cluster covers 80 percent of the audience. Because it’s such a live space, towards the back the audience normally gets less direct and more reverberant energy. The center cluster delivers more direct energy to the back of the room, meaning no need for delays. In addition, with the audience in a 260-degree arc, you would only give about 5 percent of them true stereo coverage anyway.”

Spread The Word

An air return vent above the audience had enough of a wood beam structure above it for an additional beam to be installed, from which the center cluster was flown. Installed by Professional Sound and Lighting of Portland, the system was completed ahead of schedule, with Rahn on hand to provide direct support.

“David worked closely with the installers to get the system exactly right. He did a lot of work to ensure it was properly done,” Stokes notes. “The board of The Old Church is very happy; the system is fulfilling the mandate of raising the venue’s profile very well.”

The system has worked out so well that it’s also being used for some acoustic performances as well. Stokes concludes: “It’s very subtle and controlled, which delivers a better listening experience for both audience and artist. The word is getting out that it’s an amplified system that acoustic purists enjoy listening to.”


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